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New gun law triggers rush to buy AR-15s
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It was a busier holiday season than normal for local gun stores who saw an explosion in end-of-the-year customers looking to beat the deadline for purchasing semi-automatic rifles.
On Jan. 1, it will be illegal in California to purchase a semi-automatic rifle outfitted with a “bullet button” – a magazine release feature that requires a special tool or a bullet tip, to allow reloading. With California’s 10-day waiting period in effect, the run on available AR-15s and other models continued up until Dec. 22 which was the last day to legally purchase the popular sport and hunting rifles in California.
According to Mark Davis of Manteca’s Elite Arms and Supply, the end of the year is typically a hot time for purchases but becomes even hotter when California legislators pass even stricter gun control laws – creating a wave of business.
“We were definitely in a bubble, and now that bubble has burst,” Davis said. “California is its own market when it comes to firearms – we’re hot when everybody else is cold and cold when everybody else is hot and it all comes down to new laws that are being passed here by the legislature.”
And now that the big run is technically over, gun shop owners like Davis, recent purchasers and those who are looking to have their rifles grandfathered in are still waiting to hear what the State of California will consider to be “legal” when it comes to their favorite rifles moving forward.
While the new law will take effect on Jan. 1, Davis said that the regulations that will govern it have still yet to be written leaving all gun enthusiasts and sportsmen in the dark about what will have to be done in order to remain compliant.
A semi-automatic, centerfire rifle is classified as an assault weapon in California if it has the ability to accept a detachable magazine and two of the following features – a bayonet lug, a flash suppressor, a telescoping stock, a thumbhole stock or a pistol grip. Any additional features beyond the two that are allowed and the ability to accept detachable magazines make it illegal.
Until the new regulations are made public, Davis said it’s a guessing game.
“The new registry is supposed to be up and running on Jan. 1 but the regulations haven’t been written yet as to what is legal and what isn’t,” he said. “There are ‘new’ bullet buttons that require you to open the action before removing the magazine and they say that’s going to be okay, but nobody really knows at this point.”
Across town at Shotgun Johnny’s, owner Tim Sumner sold all but one his AR-15 rifles prior to the Jan. 22 deadline. He said that the mad rush of customers all trying to purchase completed rifles and lower-receivers – the part of the gun that has a serial number, allowing for people to build their own rifles up from there – were much busier than normal.
“It was crazy in here – people were coming in and trying to get their hands on AR’s and lower receivers,” Sumner said. “I only got stuck with one rifle at the end of everything.
“They totally wiped us out.”
Sumner said that gun sales are traditionally strong during the holiday season, but misinformation about the upcoming requirement to pass a background check to purchase ammunition – which won’t go into effect until at least July of 2018 and possibly even January of 2019 – and the new bullet button law created a run on the rifles and ammunition throughout California.
Much like Davis, Sumner said that for his customers it’s a waiting game to see what the new regulations will look like governing grandfathered rifles and those that will be legal to purchase past the deadline.
“There are companies out there that claim that they have a new system that will be compliant, but we’re just a few days away and we’re totally in the dark about this,” Sumner said. “All we can do is wait and see what happens.”
While forecasters have already predicted a slowing of gun sales across the country due to Trump being elected thanks to gun-friendly positions, both Davis and Sumner believe that California’s gun market stands alone thanks to its unique legislation.
“It’ll always be a hot market here in California,” Sumner said. “As long as things keep going the way they are in Sacramento, it’ll always be a hot market.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.